One aspect of being a GM is the need to manage the assorted paperwork surrounding the game. At times, I feel more like an administrator than a storyteller. Yet, easy access to the right information greatly helps the GM run the game. This is equally true for the low prep style of gaming I prefer.One aspect of being a GM is the need to manage the assorted paperwork surrounding the game. At times, I feel more like an administrator than a storyteller. Yet, easy access to the right information greatly helps the GM run the game. This is equally true for the low prep style of gaming I prefer.
Over the years running my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign, I developed several useful worksheets to help organise my information. One such is the Top Five Abilities Sheet. This document has a short section for each Hero with basic information about the character. The main categories are:
- Best five by rating
- Best five by category
- Flaws and troubles
Best Five by Rating
HeroQuest is an ability-based RPG, where almost anything can be listed as an ability. Each ability has a rating, which the Player can increase by spending Wyrd. The upper ratings tend to converge around the same point, but there can still be a fluctuation between the Heroes. Tracking these top five ratings was my initial reason to compile this sheet.
Monitoring these best five abilities gave me a way of assessing the core capabilities of each Hero. This is not the complete picture of a Hero’s powers, as they all have a broad range of lower abilities. Yet this snapshot showed me where each Hero excelled.
At the Table: There are times during the narrative when I want to see the Heroes show their strengths. It is easy to consult this sheet, see where a Hero excels and send a corresponding challenge their way. A narrative should be a mix of success and failure. Activating these top five abilities are an obvious way to add success into the narrative and respond to the character sheet love letter.
Best Five by Category
Rather than just look at a Heroes’ best abilities, it is also important to consider how a Hero rates across several core areas of the game. I believe a flexible Hero needs strong abilities in these five areas:
- Combat – the ability to inflict harm in melee or at range
- Defence – the ability to absorb or evade damage or danger
- Magic – any kind of magic spell or item, regardless of source
- Movement – any agility or speed ability
- Social – the ability to interact with other people through communication
These five categories give me a picture of each Heroes broad abilities. Should a Hero be unbalanced, then the difference in ratings between this part of the sheet and the basic top five list will show reflect this discrepancy. It is possible for the same ability to appear in more than one category. This is more often true for magical abilities, so a high rating for Bolt of Fire could top the Combat and Magic categories for a fire mage.
At the Table: There are two main benefits from this section of the sheet. Firstly, it enables me to build better encounters. These numbers show the Heroes’ strengths in these core areas. Thus, it is easier to pitch a challenge at the right level to create a suitably difficult encounter. Just as an individual Hero’s ratings vary over these categories, so too will the party as a whole. A challenging magical encounter may need to have ratings set at a different level to a combat scene. An overview of this section of the sheet gives me this information.
Just as this information is good for game balance, it also helps me to challenge Heroes on their weaknesses. Forcing the mage into a dagger fight, or the lumbering barbarian into a delicate social situation can lead to interesting story scenes. There are plenty of times for the Heroes to shine with their best abilities. Yet, there can also be situations requiring ingenuity and improvisation from the Players. Challenging a Hero outside their comfort zone also creates interesting scenes at the table. This aspect of the Ability Sheet shows me where the Hero is weak.
Flaws and Troubles
The next area of the Ability Sheet focuses on limitations and weaknesses. Flaws and Troubles are deliberate choices by the Player, often trading a weakness here for a bonus elsewhere. As the GM, I need to have easy access to a list of these limitations of the Hero.
At the Table: Access to this list is not about preying on the vulnerabilities of the Heroes. Instead, these are a list of story complications I can throw at the Players. Thankfully, my wonderful Players tend to lean into these limitations of their Heroes. The better storyline is when a Hero overcomes their personal flaws, not when they are perfect all the time. These narrative hooks prove very helpful when I need to improvise a twist to the ongoing story.
Finally, I list the links between the Heroes and any other individual and organisation. As with the Flaws, the game runs so much smoother when I have this information to hand. I could simply ask the group about any suitable relationships they may have with the current situation. Yet, I retain a little more narrative control when I can pick out an appropriate relationship from the list.
At the Table: Once again, the list of relationships is a great tool for improvisation. Creating GMCs on the spot is a relatively simple task for an experienced GM. Yet, the story runs so much smoother if the new addition to the story already has a connection to a Hero. This is best used to bring another Hero into the story. Thus, when Sartokna visits the weaponsmith, she is inadvertently dealing with the rival of Helegion. Suddenly, another Player is more engaged with a simple shopping trip and the story builds.
The Top Five Abilities Sheet is another useful document in my GM folder. I try to update it every few sessions, to ensure the information is correct. The abilities and ratings listed help me build balanced encounters, challenge Heroes in unfamiliar ways and greatly help my improvisation.
How do you track the abilities of your Heroes? What else should I list on my Abilities Sheet? Do you have a similar tool focusing your improvisation on the Heroes? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
- Do you need more Tales?
If you enjoyed this article, then please share it, or the associated quotations. You may also be interested in the following links:
- Something for the Weekend last week: Character Generation is Play
- Something for the Weekend next week: GM Story Beats